Original item written on 10/4/2011
The past couple of years I haven’t ridden my horse Mel much because life got in the way. So, in March I took Mel to a trainer for conditioning and de-sensitizing. Andre is my new-to-me Miniature Poodle. I adopted him from a shelter – which can be a good or bad experience depending on how the dog was raised and treated. I had no idea if Andre had ever been camping, this was our first test outing and he was a real trooper.
The weekend before the scheduled Indiana Foxtrotters Association (IFTA) outing to Tippecanoe River State Park, I checked Mel’s feet and called the farrier to schedule a trim. We arranged to meet at the stables at 8 am Friday morning. I rose at 5:45 so I could feed and walk Andre before heading out. It takes me about 40 minutes to get to the stables. On the way, I noticed that gas was $3.33 per gallon at both the BP and Shell stations and decided I better stop on the way home. Andre and I pulled into the stables parking lot about 7:15 and I headed out to the pasture to bring Mel in. I gave him a quick brushing and cleaned his hooves. Then he, Andre and I waited for the farrier (Ann) to arrive. There’s nothing more pleasant than standing in the light of dawn listening to the barn come alive with nickers and neighs.
Ann arrived at eight and made short work of Mel’s hooves, even though he was a little antsy. He knew it was breakfast time and the other horses were chowing down. After the trim, I took him back to his pasture and Andre and I headed home (since I have about a 3-hour drive to Tippy, I wanted to take a quick nap before leaving). I noticed that the gas price had dropped to $3.19 at both stations – great! I stopped and filled up my tank. At home, Andre and I had breakfast and then settled in for an hour-long nap.
The alarm went off and we were on the move. Packed up the truck, took one last potty break and left for the stables again. Those of you who have your horses and trailers at home sure are lucky. Obviously, the electronic signs at the gas stations now make it way too easy to change the price of gas. Both stations had gas listed at $3.25 this time through. So in about four hours’ time, gas went from 3.33 to 3.19 and then to 3.25. At the stable, I retrieved Mel and he loaded without too much trouble, but lifting the hay bale into the truck about killed me. Andre settled in his crate in the front passenger seat and the journey began.
Tippecanoe River State Park is near Winamac, Indiana. Winamac is as far north as Fort Wayne, but west, north of Logansport. The drive all the way to Logansport was dry, but after Logansport we went in and out of sprinkles, and when we pulled into the park, it was raining steadily. I found my site, but was facing the wrong direction to back in easily, so I circled around to come at it from the other direction. One the of the IFTA members, Gayle, was just getting out of her truck at the site next to mine, so she guided me in. Gayle was taught to back up trailers by men and men use the “point the bottom of the steering wheel the direction you want the trailer to go” method. Women, usually steer from the top of the steering wheel, so they use the “turn the wheel the opposite direction you want the trailer to go” method. It’s that whole Mars/Venus thing – very confusing. I unloaded Mel and fed and watered him, then unloaded the truck, let Andre have a potty break and finally hopped in the trailer to get dry.
I just purchased this trailer in March – traded in my 3-horse for a 2-horse. My old trailer didn’t have air conditioning and after the last three summers, I made sure this one did. But, when the salesman asked about a furnace, I said I didn’t need one. “I always go to electric sites and I have a small heater that I use.” I regretted those words this weekend because Tippecanoe’s horse camp is primitive. I have been to Tippecanoe twice before but always camped at a nearby campground that has electric hookup and, although Tippy’s campground is nice, if it’s late in the season, I’ll be staying at the other place next time. I bought a sleeping bag last year that is supposed to be warm down to zero. I unzipped it to make a comforter and Andre and I were toasty beneath it.
Gayle has a portable generator and was able to make coffee on Saturday morning and fortunately for me, she invited me to partake of some. After taking care of the horses, we had breakfast and sat and talked for a while. The nice thing about camping when it is cold is that you get to have a leisurely morning waiting for it to warm up before riding. Unlike riding in the middle of summer, where you get up early and try to get a ride in before the temperature becomes unbearable. Then after the ride you spend your time trying to cool off.
One of Gayle’s many hats is dog trainer and she gave me lots of advice on training Andre. I told her my main problem was his barking and lunging at other dogs. I had no sooner said that than a couple of riders went by and Andre ran after them barking (yes, he was on a leash). Gayle said that most trainers use the words “Leave it” to get the dog to stop. So I yelled “Leave it” to Andre and to my surprise, he stopped and came running back and jumped in my arms. Obviously he had been taught “Leave it” and his being held and loved-on was his reward. Like I said before, I’ve been very lucky.
Two more club members arrived for a day ride and Gayle and I saddled up. I put Andre in his crate and the four of us hit the trails. It was a little chilly in the woods, but beautiful riding weather and Tippy has some really nice trails. I was so pleased with Mel’s performance. Since I hadn’t ridden since June I didn’t know what to expect, and I definitely didn’t expect that he would be so good. It was as though no time had passed at all. Maybe he was just as anxious to get back into the swing of things as I was. All four horses got along very well and we had no mishaps. The paths were dry for the most part and what mud there was wasn’t bad.
Later we started a campfire and had a little something to eat. I noticed that Mel kept looking over at me. Poor thing. He has always had all my attention, attention that was now going to Andre. I went over to love on him and he kept pulling his head away – no doubt pouting about the new man in my life. But, geez, Andre fits on my lap so much better. After dinner, we sat around the campfire as long as we could before the cold got the best of us. Back under the comforter we went, me and a dog that smelled like campfire smoke.
Sunday morning was a bit warmer, I actually took off my winter coat while mucking Mel’s area. Then Andre and I once again wandered over to Gayle’s site for breakfast. Todd and Lori (more IFTA members) were already there. Todd likes to cook out in a large cast-iron skillet over the campfire. I thought Andre was going to jump in the fire after the bacon and sausage. Gayle, Lori and I went for a ride after breakfast. The weather was perfect and the woods beautiful. Periodically we would come across some other trail riders and even a few cyclists. This was all good experience for Mel. He learned to pass other horses on the trail without trying to kick or join them. We rode three and a half hours – long enough that my knees started to protest. Lori complained of her feet hurting too, so when we got close enough, we all dismounted and walked the rest of the way to camp.
We had lunch and then it was time to pack up to go home. Mel didn’t give me much trouble loading for a change and the ride home went smoothly, except that I was getting low on gas and most of the small towns we passed had small gas stations. There was no way I was going to pull my trailer into one of them. I kept watching the distance to 465 on my GPS and my gas gauge and hoping that my gas would hold out, surely there had to be a large gas station before getting onto 465. I found a gas station just before the entrance ramp and just before my gas gauge hit the red area of the dial. A quick potty break for Andre and me, some gas and then the last part of the journey.
It was dark when I pulled into the parking lot at the stables. I unloaded Mel and took him back out to his pasture. He had been a trooper the whole weekend. I seriously thought about leaving my trailer where it was and coming back out Monday morning to park it; then I remembered the spotlights on the back of the trailer. I flipped those babies on and backed her in. I was able to park it quickly for a change. Andre patiently waited in his crate. Since I had unloaded everything from the trailer to the truck at the campground, all I had to do was unhook the trailer and head for home. We pulled into the garage between 8:30 and 9:00 pm. I knew if I sat down that would be the end of that, so I unloaded the truck and hit the shower.
Back home, clean and in my jammies, I snuggled into bed with a fluffy little dog that still smelled faintly of campfire. Life is good.